Monday, January 14, 2019

What I Wish I Knew When I Became a Pastor

Sunday evening I celebrated a pastor's installation. There was a beautiful covenant between pastor and church, and God's presence and blessing was there. I pray it is a long successful pastorate in our flagship church here.
But as that happened, I thought about recent and older conversations I have had, successes and failures, and what I have learned. So I am trying to write down the things I didn't know when I started pastoring. I know there have been books written about this. I'm not writing a whole book. But this is what I have seen in ministry that I want those with and following me to hear.
It's a simple list, colored by my life, education and experiences. I am in my 50s, have been married since 1989, parent a teenager and newlywed young adult, have a B.A. and 2 graduate degrees, and have ministered in a hospital as chaplain, 3 YMCA as afterschool director, and 3 churches. A child of laymen, I volunteered and had leadership roles in my home church, 2 college churches and seminary church. I received an excellent education from men I still honor, and had two great pastors while in school.
My first pastoral role was head of a church school and daycare. I had a 1 year interim that was a blessing, and have pastored where I am for 22 years.

But there were things I needed to learn. Some of this was taught in school (marked *), but learning how important it was came later. I pray that my words and lessons might make your journey better.

  1. Jesus' language is love*. Most of a pastor's mistakes include forgetting that at some point. I did not understand how important it is in what you do, how you treat and work with others. Whether all together or in conflict, seeing blessing or experiencing trials, letting Christ's love rule your thoughts, words and actions is ALWAYS a priority. 
  2. The pastor's job is to pray, pastor, preach,  disciple, administer and equip*. These things have no backup. If you don't do them or get them done, your church will suffer. Even if these aren't all your strengths, you have to do make sure they are done well. 
  3. You are not the Lone Ranger*. Work with your people, your leaders, other pastors, your community, denomination and others God leads you to. Get to know them, listen to them, learn from them, and cooperate for the good of the Church and Kingdom. 
  4. Your learning never ends*. Keep reading, keep listening, keep learning. But assimilate what you learn into your ministry, call and context with your people- don't just come home preaching someone else's message.
  5. Pay the bills at home before becoming the big person somewhere else. Don't do your hobby- it evangelism, singing, another job or politics- to the neglect of your church. 
  6. You cannot be Rick, Andy or Steven. But you can learn from them, as well as others. Meet and get to know the pastors in your community, mission group and denomination. A wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool cannot learn from anyone. Do not be the person who thinks they know it all. They end up preaching to the people who don't know better. 
  7. Your church will accept a lot if you just love them and help them love Jesus. But you should not be satisfied with that. Continue to improve. Strengthen your weaknesses and build on your strengths.
  8. If you find folks who love God passionately, love others generously, or accomplish things repeatedly, hang on to those folks. Everyone is loved by God, and should be loved by the church. But those who succeed, those who care strongly (in word and action), and those who are head over heels in love with Christ are few and far between. If a church is led by folks who have trouble making ends meet, being on time and appropriate, loving others to Christ, and getting things completed, that will affect what the church can do. You can help people find Christ, but character is a different matter. Those who work with God in outstanding churches have outstanding laypeople, be it 5 or 500. I am fortunate to have the best collection of leaders and almost-leaders our church has had in these days. 
  9. There is no time clock. But you need to outwork your best leaders. You need appropriate rest, sabbath and retreat. But you also need to invest 45-60 hours in ministry (25-40 if part-time) and work smart. Enable leaders & others, use technology, get better to be more effective- but put in the work. 
  10. Accept God's grace and forgiveness as peace and motivation. You don't have to do it all, but do have to keep pushing forward to the calling of Christ. Do not spend time kicking yourself. Repent regularly, accept forgiveness, and go on living more like Christ because of your failure.
What do you think? Share your ideas and suggestions. Maybe together we can write a book!